Intentionally Parenting Unlike an Angry God

“So, dad, who killed Jesus? Did God do it? …and why? What did Jesus do that was bad that he was punished?”

How do you answer your 8-year-old son or 14-year-old daughter and present an image of a loving father you’d like to know and emulate?

The thing is, I know my kids may have been taught the God-killed-Jesus-for-me version of the bible story in religious education at school, or in kid’s church on Sunday, or elsewhere. I’m just not, anymore.

[Deep breath]. Context: My kids know that part of mine and Nat’s job is helping people who are hurting inside by praying and talking with them. With us, they believe God hears our cries, lives in our hearts, is with us when we are hurting and loves the whole world. That’s the simple version.

All three of my kids know we are not perfect parents, but they all know that we love them deeply. We don’t beat them. They know that disciplinary punishment looks like losing a privilege, a stern warning, a rare smack, or simply allowing the consequences of their actions to have their full effect. “Go ahead boys, fight it out. Go outside and at least use the lawn while you injure each other. Let us know if you need band-aids.”

Nat and I talk about parenting A LOT. It’s something we are intentional about and we both get regular outside counselling, psych and prayer ministry help for ourselves because our inner crap ALWAYS effects the home – whether we acknowledge it or not. Yes, our stress, anger, frustration, numbing, addictions or depressed emotional states always leak into the home. Perception effects all interactions.

Parenting is terribly confronting and we’re constantly growing up alongside our kids.

Back to the opening question.

What would it look like if my two boys were wrestling one afternoon (as boys do) and broke a cup on the coffee table, leaving one of them with a small cut in their side – and what if I had told them wrestling was forbidden, and if they did wrestle someone would get hurt or something would break? What if they assumed, like other fathers they heard about, (including a version of God they heard about) I would be furious and there would be major consequences for their sin? After all, there is a price to pay, right? I’m a man of my word and someone will be hurt or something would break! (Even though those things already happened).

What if I sat them both down, and tell them “Boys, dad is very, very angry. I have wrath that must be satisfied!” I pull out my belt, fold it over and say to them, “You know what, you’re not worth my time! I can’t even look at you! I can’t even be near you! I need someone perfect to take your place so that I can at least consider having you in this house. Where is your sister?”
Imagine now, I get their sister, who has done nothing wrong, and violently beat her to death in front of them and then casually (and psychotically) switch from angry-wrathful-dad to happy-satisfied-dad and say, “Alright boys, I’m OK now. I’m not angry with you. We can be at one now.”

Do you think I might be arrested, put in jail for manslaughter and clinically labelled insane?

And yet, this is what so many Christian’s accept as the Easter story. And I say ‘accept’ because I don’t know if a balanced, love-bonded and thoughtful heart can fully ‘believe’ this. I mean, on Sunday if you can sing ‘You’re a good, good Father’ and your idea of a good father is one who punishes his children, let alone violently crucifies a beloved innocent son because he demands blood and/or perfection before you can be together, you’ve got some serious thinking to do – and I’m begging you, especially as a parent – THINK ABOUT IT!!

For the theologically inclined, as a parent, I’m taking a much needed and over-avoided-because-of-fear assessment of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) Theory. It is largely ‘accepted’ among evangelical and protestant Christians nowadays and is not all that old in the world of atonement (at-one-ment) theories. (Yes, there are many more options!) If you want to examine it’s components there are books and essays galore. I’m not prepared to lay it all out and/or defend other views here because I believe one should do their own exploration and wrestling. Suffice to say, I don’t subscribe to the theory that proposes Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, who is the Word of God, who is the Father’s beloved Son and forever member of the Trinity suffered under the hand of wrathful God (the father).

Back to the parenting thing.

I’m not raising my kids to be afraid of God. They are told God is love. They are told unhealthy choices come with their own kind of punishment and it’s not God punishing you. They are told eternal life is knowing the Trinity of Jesus, Father and Spirit. They are not threatened with concepts of hell and eternal torment. Their free will is honoured and we tell them God never breaches our choice or free will. We encourage authenticity.

Nat and I are working to establish love bonds and secure attachments with our kids, so they might have a perspective of God that’s inclined to seeing God as a kind parent whose love is unconditional and whose mature love drives out intimidation – because fear has to do with punishment (1Jn4:18). They are most often loved, cuddled, listened to and prayed over when they are scared, happy, disobedient, angry, winning or failing. We believe in relational parenting, not transactional parenting. We’re not raising kids for some kind of return on investment. We do our best to love unconditionally.

I’ve answered those curly questions from the kids below, but before you read them I would invite you to consider something. And maybe this struck me as alarming, more than it strikes you. But if you are a conscientious Christian parent, or were raised in such a home, this is interesting: In 2017 some research was conducted called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Concern for Suffering: An Empirical Study.” It does a good job of highlighting and summarising the dominant PSA belief systems in modern Evangelicalism, and then makes some interesting conclusions:
“PSA was significantly and negatively associated with a sense of responsibility for reducing pain and suffering in the world, and this association was mediated by the significant negative association of gender complementarianism on the responsibility to reduce pain and suffering in the world. (1)”

That may sound like complex language – it sort of is. It’s a psych and theology research paper after all. Basically, the authors concluded from the research that professing a Penal Substitutionary Atonement theology and then living from it (operative theology) leads to individuals caring less about alleviating pain and suffering in the world, particularly for women. The research reveals narrative links between a father’s role to punish/discipline/spank his children so that “it instils a sense of respect and fear of the male parent, who children are taught… holds a place of authority in the family like God holds a place of authority over the church.”

The link to the paper is below but suffice to say it’s not the kind of theology I want to parent from or husband from – because I don’t believe it represents the same Father Jesus revealed, especially when we consider God’s love-based triune nature! And personally, in our pastoral care and counselling ministry, Nat and I have walked with too many people through stories of Christian men who traumatised their children and wives because they believed a lived out theology required (or justified) dominance, punishment and coercion; or at least permitted/substantiated it. NO THANK YOU, I’LL HAVE A DIFFERENT THEOLOGY, PLEASE.

Q: So, dad, who killed Jesus?
A: Angry and scared people. Mainly fear-driven men; actually.

Q: Did God do it? What did Jesus do that was bad that he was punished?
A: We may have considered Jesus crucified by God, but He didn’t do it. People did. Besides, Jesus is God. The Father and Son are one and connected through the Spirit by love.
Angry, scared people killed God on the cross. But we know death is not the end, especially for God, and death is not the end for us either.

If you’re still reading, thank you. For the sake of length and time, I’m not going to justify my position on Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension, only to say that Jesus wasn’t plan B after Adam #1 – and the cross wasn’t a father punishing an innocent son because of laws, debt, perfectionism or anger issues.

You may have many questions. Heck, you may be pissed with me or you may be concerned for my salvation (whatever that means to you). But I’m guessing, for many of you, especially loving dads, what I’ve written resonates with you deeply. Whatever camp you’re in, you have the joy of discovering more for yourself. Perhaps try to read your bible with ‘loving Trinity dad lenses’ on. Who knows? …you might find that God really is light, and there is no darkness in him at all (1Jn1:5)

P.S. I’m open to civil discussion. I will read the comments. I don’t have all the answers or theological rebuttals to some of those tricky/sticky/lonely/poorly translated bible verses that may come to mind. I’m still seriously wrestling with stuff. I may not reply to all comments and will moderate/delete anything I feel is disrespectful and unhelpful.

(1) Hydinger, Kristen, et al. “Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Concern for Suffering: An
Empirical Study.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, vol. 45, no. 1, 2017, pp. 33.
//journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/009164711704500103

16 Comments

  1. Sam April 4, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    So what would be some good search terms if I wanted to look up these other theories? This is surprising to me!

  2. Wendy April 4, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    I appreciate your sharing, as I was raised Evangelical and it seems PSA is a integral part of the Evangelical explanation of “God’s plan of salvation.’ I would like to be able to understand and explain the events of the cross with an alternate theology. Are you aware of any resources that discuss alternate atonement theories in a simple way, perhaps even with scriptural insight?

  3. Peter Harvey April 5, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    “On the sixth day Man made god in his own image.” In a nutshell this is the old age problem of god fashioned by men to fit their narrative. Radically the bible proclaims what Karl Barth would capture in two words. God Is. Blunt and to the point. And this is the unheard of, radical notion that love is higher, compassion greater, mercy greater because God IS. Amazing grace is not amazing if it is what we expect any father would presume as a given. Peter T Forsythe one the first to rebel against the feeling sentimentality of F Schleiermacher and would latter declare “Holy Father” to define what Loving Father is. Trying having a read of his works as history tends to repeats itself unnecessary because we have lost the notion of village life, community and the democracy of those who have gone before us.

  4. Steve April 6, 2019 at 4:22 am

    I absolutely love your thoughts on this, and how you describe your parenting. I adopted three girls from foster care who were severely abused in their pasts; do you think I’m going to teach them about an angry God, or teach them to submit unconditionally to a man (should they marry one day)? Do you think I’m going to use corporal punishment on my girls? No way, absolutely not. They’ve been through enough. They need Love, Joy, Peace. They need care. They need hope. They need not only a parent, but a friend to guide them. That’s what I will continue to strive to be. Thanks again for this encouraging article!

  5. Alex April 6, 2019 at 9:10 am

    What if in your example of the the boy’s sister being punished she said: Dad punish me instead of my brothers Or because of the close connection of the Trinity dad had said: Boys punish me.

  6. Julia April 6, 2019 at 9:15 am

    Thank you David That fits with my God too.Still have questions which is healthy,but we have got it so wrong for such a long time.God is love He fills the earth and there is no darkness in Him is my declaration
    Many blessings to you and your family.Julia

  7. Rod Schneider April 6, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Hey David, I agree with all of your observations and positions. I’ve also been wrestling with and discarding much of the theology I was taught in the various institutional churches I have attended. You wrote that you’re “not going to justify (your) position on Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension, only to say that Jesus wasn’t plan B after Adam #1 – and the cross wasn’t a father punishing an innocent son because of laws, debt, perfectionism or anger issues.”

    I’m not asking you to justify your position (you don’t need to defend your position to me) , but are you able to summarise your position on Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, ascension and the atonement? That would be really helpful!

    Lots of love,

    Rod

  8. briannabengland April 7, 2019 at 3:43 am

    Hi David,

    I love the work you do and have benefited so much from the courses you offer.

    I have spent time reading and reflecting on your email this morning and have been considering what has been written here. Ironically, I have been reading Isaiah 53 daily for the last week or so, and it seems to contradict the therory discussed here. I understand your point of view. But how much of it contradicts scripture and how then do we understand the Old Testament and view of scripture and prophecies about what was to come? What do we believe about justice and our sin-nature? What do we believe about our sins being forgiven? Why did Jesus have to/decide to come? Why was it so important to be prophecied so many years before?

    I fully believe in the Bible and I fully believe in a loving and gracious and tender God. Although I have been wrestling with what you have discussed here as well as what I have grown up learning in church along with what I read in scripture now with my own point of view. I am considering going to a school to study scripture intensely over a 9 month period to gain a new perspective and find out what I believe and why. I need to know where my hearts at.

    I don’t know what I believe about what you’ve written, but I understand your perspective. Do you have any specific thoughts on the writings and prophecies of Isaiah 53 specifically? Where it says “it was God’s will to crush him” and “by His wounds we are healed”.

    I’ve been wrestling, but I believe in the sovereignty of God, however I couldn’t explain it.

    I appreciate your honesty, vulnerability, and research you’ve done. Thank you for sharing your heart and belief systems even if it’s not popular.

    Would love to hear further thoughts.

    Blessings,
    Bri England

  9. Sharon Ereaux April 8, 2019 at 10:07 am

    Answering about wrath
    From David Tensen: “you’re not worth my time! I can’t even look at you! I can’t even be near you”
    https://davidtensen.com/intentionally-parenting-unlike-an-angry-god/
    Thank you for your post David, and for your honesty – that you’re wrestling with these matters and open to discussion. Personally I’m disappointed that you too are feeling like anger, wrath and love can’t co-exist in God or even, I suppose, in people. I’ve heard of other high profile Christians in ministry who are promoting these ideas and I’ve had some dialogue with some of them. I’m sad that this notion is gaining traction. I’m totally for figuring out how all the pieces fit together, but truth is being taken off track in just a different direction. Swinging from one error to its erroneous opposite – as though to get as far away from it as possible – is a common scenario, and we should try to learn from history on this. So I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the topic with all its various threads. I’d like to share some thoughts with you to help you as you continue to wrestle.
    A little of my context first though. I’m a Mum. My son is 17 and I knew about attachment parenting from the start and I’m grateful for it. The precious souls of our little ones need respect. I started getting inner healing ministry when he was tiny. I grew up as a protestant evangelical kind of Christian but have branched out. I’ve always valued reading the Bible and am now nearing the end of my studies for a bachelor of theology.
    I am confident that we can weave together all biblical truth… (interpretation is the tricky part, and yes, translations don’t always help us, but I’m grateful to be able to read and study in both Greek and Hebrew),… with all broader truths of what is good and right and lovely.
    I feel that we have to complexify some of our understandings, so as not to dismiss what we feel doesn’t all fit together with a loving God.
    Yes, we are correcting much damage from the broken and distorted masculinity that the church has sadly fostered. A distorted femininity is a problem too, just to make mention of that. And yes, wrath has been sadly mis-taught.
    So, these are my dot points. I hope to have time to elaborate on each with a blog post or video of my own fairly soon.
    • The true biblical sense of wrath is actually the giving out of reasonable consequences, just as good parents do. It’s not a nice sounding English word though at all.
    • The parenting analogy is of limited help unless we extrapolate to parenting adult children and considering what intentional and destructive behaviour from the adult child might warrant serious consequences. Parents who have tried to look after an ice-addicted adult son could give insight into what love might look like when the child is stealing from them, destroying the home and being violent towards perhaps even his own children or younger siblings.
    • On the cause of Christ’s death – killed by people only, or by the purpose of God? We don’t want an overly simplistic causative view – either, God killed His son. OR. People did it. It’s more interconnected than that.
    • On what Jesus’ death achieved – let’s not be hasty to dismiss our need for it. Why blood shed? Why such violence? These are important questions to help us dig deeper.
    • On anger and wrath and the difference and the importance of them, for God and for us. Anger and wrath are not the same thing. The Hebrew notions are complex with 8 different words used. I’m preparing a blog post on this. Wrath is not out of control anger.
    • Considering our innate impulse for wrongs to be righted – this weaves into the picture and has been on my mind more the past few weeks.
    • Anger and love coexisting. Righteous anger wants honouring. Justified anger rightly desires justice.
    • On parenting – similar point to above – we parent babies different to children, different to teens and different again to adult children. This touches on how we see ourselves in relation to God. Are we forever children? Are we just poor helpless humans?
    • On punishment versus consequences. As you said, the best discipline – we could call it fair punishment – is allowing or creating reasonable consequences based on healthy boundaries. Punishing someone might sound like unjust treatment, but really it’s our sense of the word rather than the actual meaning of the word. Punishments can be fair. Consequences may be a better word. But, a little story on that topic – I used this notion with my son from when he was only 4 or so – praise God for some good library books on parenting. I let my son know when he was headed towards consequences and what they might be. A couple of years later though, I used the word consequences in a positive sense and wondered why my son was confused til I realised that I’d caused him to understand ‘consequences’ as only ever negative. I apologised and told him that there are good consequences too. Let’s not taint another word. Punishment can be fair and isn’t always over the top. Is it just that it’s a trigger word for us who’ve known harsh unreasonable and non-compassionate punishment?
    • The question of punishing an innocent one such as Jesus is a different question, and it has no parallel or analogy in the earthly realm. This is a spiritual mystery that invites us into deep spiritual questions. And there are answers. I still am thinking over all I’ve been taught on this topic and how it’s been explained and going back to the raw material, especially the Hebrew. However, I’m finding rich and powerful truths and our Father God is more amazing to me than ever. I seek to be drawn deeper into His heart to share His perspective. And I’m grateful for you blog post and your invitation to discuss as it’s given me reason to actually start typing out my reflections. This is longer than I expected. I hope it’s helpful. I’ll be glad if we can have ongoing dialogue on these most important topics.
    Blessings.

  10. Terah April 9, 2019 at 7:32 am

    I’m coming out of a 19 year marriage to a man that parented and husbaned like an angry God. I’m dealing with three children, all teens 11-15) that can’t have a relationship with their dad because he won’t consider doing things different. He is also an addict. I came from a super conservative Christian home that taught me the story of the angry God that I had to earn love from. Fear was instilled in me in a major way from a young age. I am desperate to not pass this along to my children and I feel like I am drowning. We are kind of in survival mode and it seems when I think we are emerging from it we get slammed back down. Do you have any advice on where I can start or anything that could help me ?

  11. David Tensen April 10, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Good questions. How are you paralleling them to the predominant PSA narratives?

  12. David Tensen April 10, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Work by Brad(ley) Jersak or C. Baxter Kruger are a great resource. Lots on the internet. Nice guys, too!

  13. David Tensen April 10, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Hi Rod,
    Work by Brad(ley) Jersak or C. Baxter Kruger are a great resource. Lots on the internet. Nice guys, too!

  14. David Tensen April 10, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Peter.

  15. David Tensen April 10, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    Thanks for your extensive thoughts and reply. There is so much there and it sounds like you are on a journey to create some of your own content around the questions/topic/discussion/themes. If there is a single question, I’d be happy to consider a reply.

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